Pink Floyd - The Final Cut
Roger Waters' father, Eric Fletcher Waters, was a soldier in City of London Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers and was killed in combat during the Anzio Campaign that had aimed to capture Rome in 1944. Due to being ordered by their generals to hold the beach instead of quickly moving inland, the German army were able to rebuild their defences and, when subsequently ordered to take Rome, the allied infantry were slaughtered in one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.
From beginning his life with that event in its background, Roger Waters has written about loss throughout his career, whether the absence of his friend Syd Barrett, the loss of his own character within a rock band or, with his final album whilst still a member of Pink Floyd, the loss of his father during the Second World War. With an unerring eye for the details in the lives of those written about, particularly in respect of his own failures, Waters can be both maudlin and vicious and when, as on this album, he writes about the death of his father and, more generally, the futility of war, the anger that was seen to blossom on The Wall, flowers across each of these thirteen tracks.
Unlike punk, which was often just has angry as the sentiments on both The Wall and The Final Cut, Waters gives his feelings a focus and substance that punk always lacked. The Clash's debut album is angry, as is The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks, but both albums direct their disappointment towards every corner. Waters, on the other hand, is furious about one specific event - the death of his father before Waters even had the chance to meet him - and is not afraid, as listeners of both The Wall and The Final Cut will testify, of naming him in song as Daddy. With Another Brick In The Wall (Part I) beginning with, "Daddy's gone across the ocean / Leaving just a memory", The Final Cut opens with the question, "Is it for this that Daddy died?" (The Post War Dream) and draws to a close after Waters notes, "Daddy, Daddy!"...And you'll never hear their voices / And you'll never see their faces" (Two Suns In The Sunset).
Waters never lost sight of the millions of soldiers who died on the battle field alongside his father and, in seeking to place the blame on someone, looks to the failure of generals and politicians to protect the soldiers on the front line from their safe seats back at home. Using the image of soldier with a bloody knife placed firmly between his shoulder blades, Waters angrily makes his point and having recorded this album shortly after the Falklands war and alongside the then-ongoing Cold War and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he extends his lyrical reach out to include Thatcher, Galtieri, Reagan, Haig, Brezhnev, Nixon and the ghost of McCarthy. Then again, this being Waters, whose previous album, The Wall, had gazed long and hard at his reflection in the mirror, his writing on The Final Cut never once lets him claim innocence and he curses his younger self for never dealing with the loss of his father as he pursued girls and the glory.
But so much for the politics, how does The Final Cut fare both on its own and the rest of Pink Floyd's back catalogue. The first thing that most listeners will notice on hearing this album is that sometime during The Wall, Pink Floyd had effectively stopped being a band, more the musicians who remained on-call to record Waters' songs. Subsequently, The Final Cut is much more a Roger Waters solo album than it is a Pink Floyd album and only Your Possible Pasts and Not Now John get anywhere near the material one would expect Pink Floyd to deliver. These two songs apart, it's difficult to hear what exactly David Gilmour did on The Final Cut and although Nick Mason was still around, Rick Wright had been forced out by Waters during the recording of The Wall. The closest reference, therefore, to earlier Pink Floyd would be the second disc from The Wall and The Final Cut mixes Waters music with the flutter and screams of sound effects that occasionally crash into the songs, as though the oblique messages that were scattered across Dark Side Of The Moon had been written into the songs. There is nothing, however, that stands out in the manner that Comfortably Numb does on The Wall although the purpose of The Final Cut is that of a single suite of songs to be experienced in one sitting and, as the songs flow from one into another, there aren't the bursts of pop, rock and funereally paced ballads that can be picked out of The Wall. In its favour, The Final Cut does have a number of wonderful songs, more so than the second half of The Wall - The Post War Dream, The Gunner's Dream and Two Suns In The Sunset are superb, with Not Now John getting closest to the sound of Pink Floyd as a band, although the backing singers cooing, "Fuck all that" is a surprise. The outstanding track, When The Tigers Broke Free, is the reason to buy this album as this release is the first to have included this song in the full track listing despite it being released as a single about the time The Final Cut was first released. Over an arrangement of sounds from a battlefield, the slow progress of infantry and a male voice choir, When The Tigers Broke Free is a chilling account of the battle at Anzio, Waters' discovery of the letter that had been sent to tell his mother about the death of his father in combat and, at the song's end, the rush of the tanks into the Royal Fusiliers that, recalling the words at the beginning and end of the album, has Waters telling us, "..and that's how the high command took my daddy from me."
Whilst a small number of fans think this to be the best album recorded by Pink Floyd, I'm really not so sure. Clearly, it is a great album but it never sounds as though it ought to be loved in the manner of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Dark Side Of The Moon or Wish You Were Here. Instead, The Final Cut sounds like an important album, possibly an album that, against the wishes of what was left of Pink Floyd, Waters felt he had to record but with arrangements that are often dense and impenetrable and lyrics that prick at the soft bellies of those who sit at home nodding as soldiers are sent abroad to kill other boys' fathers, The Final Cut is a frequently astonishing album, if not one that will pick itself out from the shelf for a regular playing.